So, you like wine and you love trains, do you? Have I got a treat for you! The Napa Valley Wine Train rolls through 18 miles of gorgeous vineyards as you relax in the comfort of century-old Pullman rail cars, sipping a cabernet and noshing on lunch, looking out the picture windows while watching the world go by.
The journey commences on the northern edge of the town of Napa. The station is huge, evidence of the popularity of this attraction. Reservations are a must. You have a choice of a variety of trips. The Ambassador Winery Tour is the most deluxe, including lunch plus side tours to Krug and Raymond Wineries. You board at 11.00 and the train leaves promptly at 11.30. Tables are set for four people and if you are a couple you must share.
That’s the first surprise. The second is that if you are seated on the right side of the train, your view is of the passing cars on the highway immediately outside your window. Not picturesque. No one will tell you this in advance, but by all means ask and reserve for the left side of the carriage.
The next surprise is that lunch is served immediately. Best to have your breakfast early. The food is fine, given that it is cooked on a train. The next surprise is that the ride is only an hour. It doesn’t take long to travel 18 miles. No sooner are you done with lunch than you arrive in St. Helena and transfer to a bus. It’s off to old-fashioned Krug Winery for a quick tour and taste, then back on the bus. Raymond Winery is very modern, but again you only have an hour and its back on the bus. You are back in Napa by 4.00 pm.
The couple with whom I shared a table thought this particular option was very poor value for $500, and I would agree. Far better to take a trip that returns via rail to the station. A dinner trip, however, means you will miss the scenery unless you book for the summer when it stays light until 9 pm. A return trip also means you get to view the vineyards either coming or going. It also means more time aboard the plush Pullman coaches, and not on a bus.
For dinner, you have an endless selection of dining options in the town of Napa. Most tourists are fixated on touring the famous valley and unwittingly drive right by the town. That is a huge mistake. Downtown Napa has been lovingly restored. A recent earthquake did damage to many of the old brick buildings but they have all been repaired. There’s a wonderful walk along the riverside promenade too. Tasting rooms abound.
Just off the main street the lucky diner may discover the delights of upscale Ca’ Momi Osteria, its old brick walls b uttressed to prevent damage from any future quakes. The focus is on authentic Italian fare, with a hug e brick oven turning out tasty antipasti, pastas and pizzas. Perhaps the only attraction better than the food is the ambience, a warm and convivial atmosphere that draws crowds nightly. Try the grilled rock octopus, or the milk-braised salt cod, with an insalata bianca of frisee and endive with walnuts and pears, gorgonzola piccante and apple cider vinaigrette. To die for. Again, reservations are recommended.
By all means drop by the Visitors Center on Main Street for maps, brochures and insider information. You could spend weeks exploring Napa town and valley. If you haven’t already done your research in advance, these folks will certainly help you out. Cheers!